Should young athletes be supplementing during the sports season?
With vigorous training schedules and high-level competitions, young athletes can face a lot of pressure to always perform at their best during the season. This pressure can make the use of supplements tempting when their packaging makes promises like “improved strength, agility, and speed”. However, when deciding whether or not to start using a sports supplement, it is important to look at all the facts, because unfortunately, not all supplements live up to their marketing claims.
The American Academy of Pediatrics actually discourages the use of performance-enhancing supplements in teen athletes. Supplements and performance enhancers can not only affect a young athlete’s athletic performance but also their health overall. The main nutrients and benefits that many athletes look for in supplements, can be provided by simply eating a well-balanced diet.
Real food is always the best option when it comes to optimizing a young athlete’s nutrition. Food is less expensive and can provide a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and energy all in one serving. Not to mention fueling up on healthy and nutrient-dense meals in order to recover and prepare for sporting events tastes much better and is more satisfying.
Supplement manufacturers are also not required to prove that a certain supplement works before marketing it, or that it even contains what they say it does. This means, that although companies are responsible for ensuring a product they are selling is safe, they do not always know that it actually works.
If you are going to use supplements, look for labels with the seal of approval from organizations such as ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, or U.S. Pharmacopeia. These offer quality testing and allow products to pass tests indicating the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants. However, these seals of approval do not guarantee the product is effective.
Protein powder is one of the most commonly used supplements in the sports and weight-lifting world. If you are choosing to use a protein powder to add something extra to your breakfast or post-workout smoothie, make sure you are choosing a product that not only has the seal of approval but also only contains mostly natural ingredients. It is also important to stick to the serving size of protein powders and only take what is recommended for you or your child’s age. Overconsumption of protein powder and other supplements can have negative side effects, like digestive issues, that will affect your training and competition.
So next time you see a product or supplement claiming “enhanced sports performance, faster recovery, or increased speed and agility” take a second to look into the product and the company that makes it. Most times, including high-quality lean protein sources, a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain carbohydrate sources can give you what you need to perform your best and recover safely and efficiently after a sporting event.
Need more proof? Here is a chart provided by the Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual that compares a basic amino acid supplement to a serving of Cheerios and milk.
|Amino Acid||1 packet Amino Acid Supplement||1 cup Cheerios + ½ cup milk|
|Leucine||500 mg||239 mg + 409 mg = 648 mg|
|Valine||340 mg||154 mg + 280 mg = 620 mg|
|Isoleucine||400 mg||113 mg + 253 mg = 366 mg|
|Arginine||400 mg||214 mg + 151 mg = 365 mg|
|Cost||$ 1.50||$ 0.50 per serving|
Here are some real-food recipes to try that contain high amounts of protein and other helpful nutrients:
Strawberry & Peanut Butter Smoothie
5 ingredients – 5 minutes – 1 serving
|3/4 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk|
|1/2 cup Plain Greek Yogurt|
|1 cup Frozen Strawberries|
|1/2 Banana (frozen)|
|2 tbsps All Natural Peanut Butter|
- Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy!
Blueberry Coconut Smoothie
5 ingredients – 5 minutes – 1 serving
|1 cup Coconut Water|
|1 cup Frozen Blueberries|
|1/4 cup Frozen Banana|
|1/4 cup Plain Greek Yogurt|
|1/4 cup Vanilla Protein Powder|
- Add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Enjoy!